Special Address to the Nation on November 7, 2003, by President Chandrika Kumaratunga
Special address to the nation on Friday 7th November
I would like to speak to you today on the current situation regarding some aspects of the decision taken by me early this week. I explained briefly two days ago when I addressed you over the media.
Today, I would like to enumerate in greater detail the reasons that led to my decision and present to you my proposals for the future.
The decision to take over the Ministries of Defence, Internal Security and Mass Communications is not a greatly shocking one. The portfolios of Defence and Internal Security was one, right along, under every government of Independent Sri Lanka until the present government decided to separate them into two Ministries two years ago.
Under the Constitution of Sri Lanka the Defence of the State is a power solely vested in the President.
Firstly, and in the final count the President who is also the Head of State, Head of Government, Head of Cabinet and Commander in Chief of the Armed Forces is held solely responsible for matters of Defence and National Security. It is the President who will some day be held exclusively responsible for all acts of commissions and omissions, the successes and failures of defence and national security policy.
Sections 3 & 4 of the Constitution leave no doubt on this matter. The Supreme Court decision on the failed 19th Amendment to the Constitution and the recent opinion of the Supreme Court regarding the unconstitutional and thus invalid attempt by the Minister of Defence to assign to himself the Presidential powers with regard to the Armed Forces was declared ultra vires the Constitution and thus null and void, and leaves no more room for any doubt on this issue. Under the constitution of Sri Lanka the Prime Minister nor any other Minister has been accorded any power with regard to national security.
In the first place one may ask, as many experts have justifiably done many times, why the President handed over the portfolio of Defence to someone else. A new government was elected. The Prime Minister kept appealing to me for several days requesting me to hand over the portfolio of Defence to his nominee. I explained to him that Defence is a function constitutionally assigned to the President and is inalienable from the President and that all Presidents of Sri Lanka had continuously held this post including myself for a period of seven years. Finally, on his insistent appeals I decided to hand over Defence having considered several reasons:
Firstly, The Prime Minister clearly agreed to the condition that all-important decisions regarding Defence would be decided in consultation with me. This promise was never once observed for the past two years. At most times I came to know of the decisions on Defence matters after they were taken, from the media, a couple of times I was informed of the decisions after the decisions were implemented. Most of these decisions were invalid because constitutionally the only authority empowered to take them is the President. One example of such an incident is the signing of the Ceasefire Agreement, which actually should have been signed under the hand of the President. Dozens of such decisions that are of crucial national importance and have a significant bearing on the sovereignty of Sri Lanka and National Security have been taken in this manner. At every point I have advised and warned the Prime Minister and the Defence Minister of the dangers of such actions, at National Security Meetings, at official discussions and by letter. All this had absolutely no effect to correct the situation. I allowed this state of affairs to continue until now only because of my unwavering commitment to democratic governance. I also wished to give maximum space and freedom to the new government and its Prime Minister to successfully implement their proposed programmes, especially the continuation of the Peace Process, I had commenced several years ago. But today an objective analysis of the situation makes it crystal clear that during the last two years the sovereignty of the State of Sri Lanka, its territorial integrity and the security of the Nation have been placed in grave danger by acts of willful commission and other acts of careless omissions by some members of the government. To cite some examples numerous shipments of arms have been permitted to be brought into the country. The Sri Lanka Navy apprehended 09 such shipments. The Minister of Defence and the Prime Minister gave instructions to release the first 06 of these despite strong warnings given by me at National Security Council meetings. I was told by the Minister of Defence that one must turn a blind eye to these things on not less than three occasions at the National Security Council meetings. I advised the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence very strongly that this was not the way to conduct affairs of State. But once again this was of no avail. I was compelled to give instructions to the relevant authorities in the case of the last three shipments in order to prevent two 60 tons ships full of military hardware and another smaller boat from being brought into our territory.
Forcible recruitment of children was permitted by the defence authorities to the point that the LTTE’s hardcore cadres have increased from 6,000-18,000 during the Ceasefire period. The LTTE have been allowed to construct armed camp after camp, in complete violation of the country’s laws and even the Ceasefire Agreement and to attack continuously innocent Muslim civilians to kill, abduct and demand ransom from the Muslim people living in the three districts of the East. The Defence authorities permitted the Norwegian facilitators and their Monitors during the Ceasefire period to suggest to the Armed Forces of the Government of Sri Lanka to agree to remove strategically crucial military camps and to recognize the LTTE’s illegal naval unit, before even commencing talks with the LTTE on the de-commissioning of arms, giving up politics of terror and violence and above all giving up the call for a separate state, under whatever name it may be called. At a formal discussion with the Prime Minister and the Minister of Defence and also in writing, I have taken up the position that it is the duty and responsibility of the Government of Sri Lanka to resolve the matter of armed camps set up by the LTTE and that it was improper, to throw this baby on to the Norwegian lap. In fact this does not come under the Terms of Reference given to the Norwegians. It is up to the government and the government alone to resolve the problem of the LTTE or any illegally armed group setting up armed camps within the territory of Sri Lanka. But, all we hear are glib statements by various government authorities that the problem was handed over to the Norwegian facilitators and other Monitors. Neither the Prime Minister nor the Defence Minister have to date stated their position on the surprising demands of the LTTE, for the removal of strategic military camps and the recognition of LTTE naval units, abdicating their responsibility to a foreign government which has no authority or provision to take decisions on these matters.
Another serious act of irresponsibility was the neglect of the Armed Forces and thus rendering them unprepared to execute their duties effectively. The allocation of money even for the purchase of spare parts was unduly delayed even after repeated instructions from me. At the time when negotiations broke down between the LTTE and the Government, 16 months after the government came into power, about 60% of the attack crafts of the Navy and Air Force were out of operation due to lack of spare parts for regular maintenance. At the end of 2002, the Army possessed less than one month’s requirements of ammunition.In other countries all these would amount to a serious dereliction of duty by those in authority.
In brief all that the President has done is to take back some of the powers that are unquestionably and rightfully accorded to the President by the Constitution, from a minister to whom these powers were handed over in good faith, after these powers were exercised with callous irresponsibility.
As for the Police, the law and order has never deteriorated to the levels it has today. Grievous crime is increasing by leaps and bounds every month. Killing, physical harassment, destruction of property and intimidation of various forms of political opponents have become the order of the day. Sixty SLFP supporters were killed and around 3000 PA activists have been grievously harmed physically and their properties burnt and destroyed by senior members of the UNP since arriving in power. I have brought this issue to the PM’s notice innumerable times and at Cabinet meetings. The Police have been prevented from recording statements. No Police investigations have been carried out. The Cabinet approved the proposal by me to financially compensate the victims of this violence and any others in the same manner. The PA compensated hundreds and thousands of persons who suffered political harassment at the hands of pre 1994 governments. But this decision remains without implementation to this date even after many reminders from me. The CID had once again begun the pre-1994 practice of fabricating evidence against Opposition Parliamentarians in order to harass them endlessly.
A completely routine Gazette Notification made by the President in order to correct an error in the assigning of subjects and functions to Ministers and the President saw the re-emergence of shocking acts of thuggery at the Government Press under the guidance of the Minister in charge of Police and one or two other Ministers. The most recent act of the present government which has sent shock waves through the entire judiciary is the attempt to intimidate the highest judicial body of the country – the Supreme Court – from delivering a determination on a matter of great national importance by threatening to impeach the Chief Justice. I am truly happy to note that this country still has amongst its citizens, people with the morality and the courage, irrespective of their political leanings to rise up against such undemocratic and authoritarian action. The entire judiciary of the country from the Magistrature upwards has observed a day of "No work" last Wednesday, as a protest against this most shocking behaviour of those in power. This conjures in the minds of many, the frightful phantoms of a shameful past, when the residences of Supreme Court Judges were stoned by thugs sent by the government, consequent to a judgment, considered unfavorable to that government, as well as sacking the entire bench of the Supreme Court by a former President for the only sin of being independent and impartial and the attempted impeachment of a highly respected legal luminary, who was then the Chief Justice. It is with great sadness that I note the re-emergence of a system of government by force and the use of State terror that was perpetrated upon this country before 1994. Believe me when I say that I am not trying to take partisan political advantage. I cannot forget the massive mandate I received from the people repeatedly at 11 different rounds of elections over a period of 9 years, was mainly given to us loudly and clearly by the vast majority of our peoples from East to West and North to South of the Island to bring back the rule of law and to halt the gross violations of fundamental rights of persons, to bring to a halt the era of murder of Black July of 1983 which drove the Tamil people to war and also the mass murder of 50,000 Sinhala youth in the South mainly by the State and partly by an armed insurgent group of the South. Permit me to say that we were hugely successful in wiping out this political culture of violence in 1994. Recently I have had cause for deep concern about the deviations wrought within the new political culture of freedom and democracy re-established and maintained by us for seven years. The law and order situation that is fast deteriorating and the acts of violence and thuggery involving government persona continues unabated.
Repeated discussions and instructions to the relevant Ministers and the Prime Minister has had no positive results.
As the Executive President entrusted with the sacred responsibility of safeguarding the sovereignty of the State and the security of the Nation, I have had to take over three relevant Ministries, all closely linked together, in order to rectify this situation and to fulfill the massive mandates you the people gave me at two consecutive Presidential election mandates, which entrusted to me the sacred duty of protecting the Constitution and safeguarding the sovereignty and security of the State and implementing the rights and privileges, accorded to the peoples therein.
I wish to reiterate that my decision was a simple act of government undertaken with the objective of correcting several serious problems. It is a totally legal and Constitutional Act. I request you not to be misled by provocative and false information that the President has engaged in some wrongful activity in order to de-stabilise the country. Instability if any was caused temporarily by the hysteria exhibited by some government members, by their desperate running about and manipulations for what, I do not know.
I wish to speak to you now of what is proposed to be done in the immediate future.
The present economic process will continue and I remain firmly committed as always to the development of the National economy through the free market process whilst according all assistance for the less privilege sections of our population so that they may become active and successful participants of the National Economy.
The private sector will continue to be the engine of growth while foreign and local investments will be encouraged. Parliament was prorogued for two weeks and will meet from 19th November onwards. The presentation of the Budget can be done then by the Minister of Finance. The Budget was scheduled to be presented on the 12th and six days would be lost due to the prorogation. The PA stands willing to give up some of its time under the various votes to cover up for lost time.
I am also pleased that the government is considering a pay rise for public servants which I recommended to the Cabinet many months ago. I hope that the Government would implement the Devendra Commission recommendation in full in this Budget.
Negotiations for Peace
The Ceasefire Agreement will continue to stand. Norwegian Facilitators will continue, whilst clear instructions will be issued to them regarding the parameters and limits of their responsibilities within the Terms of Reference that will be issued to them. The Armed Forces have been instructed by me to abide by the Ceasefire Agreement. The Prime Minister will be called upon to continue the Peace Process, whilst I shall take responsibility for the defence of the Nation with the participation of the Prime Minister and the Ministers.
I call upon the Prime Minister, Cabinet of Ministers, all political leaders and activists to play their respective roles with the utmost responsibility. I call upon everyone to desist from engaging in any acts of sabotage for narrow political gain in the name of the security of the Nation.
I wish to nudge the memories of my friends of the media and other Peace experts who only yesterday were part of the anti Peace campaign that burnt and vilified the best proposals for peace ever to be presented by any government of Sri Lanka that it was I, and my first government that brought Peace into the political arena and made it a living people’s force. This was at the time I took over the Government from Mr. Ranil Wickremasinghe when peace did not even figure in our political vocabulary. My commitment to peace is total. It is not a sheepskin that I put on for grabbing power.
I have already instructed the Police that the regime of intimidation, fabrication of evidence and violation of the fundamental rights of the person through the misuse of the Police and other institutions has ended three days ago. And the strictest action will be taken against any Police officer or any person who is found to violate these instructions.
I have once again firmly instructed the Police as I did in 1994 to act independently and impartially and that they need not follow improper requests given by politicians however highly placed they may be. Plans are already a foot to commence a massive campaign to halt the increasingly criminalization of our society and to bring the law and order situation under control.
The expectations created among the people for an early settlement of the ethnic problem and for peace are becoming increasingly elusive. Despite misleading media reports the LTTE has not yet agreed to even begin to come to terms with the core issues. They have not yet given up their call for a separate state, under whatever name it may be given. They have not agreed to give up terror and violence nor even hinted that they would give up arms even in the distant future. The most recent demonstration of these conclusions are contained in the LTTE’s proposals for an Independent Self-governing Authority presented some days ago to the Government of Sri Lanka.
The present government asked for a mandate from the peoples of the country at the last elections to bring in durable peace to develop the economy within hundred days, give employment to all or a monthly allowance to the unemployed, increase salaries, to increase subsidies and to accelerate rural development. These promises are yet to be realized. Poverty is increasing daily. Over 40% of the population still lives below the poverty line. The income of the farmers has declined seriously. The cost of living continues to increase considerably with no concurrent increase in salaries. The transport sector is in turmoil. Corruption is rampant. Several attempts at privatization has had to be withdrawn due to the improper procedures followed.
We Sri Lankans have today arrived at the cross roads of history. Destiny beckons us to rise above narrow political and personal considerations and to engage in the search for new and creative solutions to the country’s major problems.
I am aware that a vast majority of Sri Lankan peoples from every walk of life is strongly of the view that for this purpose the major political forces must join hands. At this point of time I bow my head in agreement to the people’s demand. I call upon all the parties represented in Parliament to put country before self and to join me in an attempt to form a Grand Alliance - of all national and patriotic forces with the objective of forming a Government of National Reconstruction and Reconciliation.
I stand ready to commence discussions on this proposal with the leaders of all parties represented in Parliament, with the present PM Mr.Ranil Wickremasinghe and the leaders of his party.
I Thank you